‘Sixteen-year-old Eva is a princess, born with the magick of blood and marrow–a dark and terrible magick that hasn’t been seen for generations in the vibrant but fractured country of Myre. Its last known practitioner was Queen Raina, who toppled the native khimaer royalty and massacred thousands, including her own sister, eight generations ago, thus beginning the Rival Heir tradition. Living in Raina’s long and dark shadow, Eva must now face her older sister, Isa, in a battle to the death if she hopes to ascend to the Ivory Throne–because in the Queendom of Myre only the strongest, most ruthless rulers survive.
When Eva is attacked by an assassin just weeks before the battle with her sister, she discovers there is more to the attempt on her life than meets the eye–and it isn’t just her sister who wants to see her dead. As tensions escalate, Eva is forced to turn to a fey instructor of mythic proportions and a mysterious and handsome khimaer prince for help in growing her magick into something to fear. Because despite the love she still has for her sister, Eva will have to choose: Isa’s death or her own.’
What I enjoyed most about A River of Royal Blood is the magic, history and cultures involved in the worldbuilding. Though the reader is not given a huge amount of information about how exactly every facet of how the Queendom of Myre functions, I appreciated that the early chapters of the novel are not simply a huge amount of exposition to introduce us to the world before any of the plot truly gets going. Flashes of each of the prominent races and cultures are shared, so that it’s enough to know how some of their society functions and what has happened to bring them to where they are, but some is left to unfold over the course of the story and there’s a good deal that, I can only assume, is wisely being left for future books, given the novel’s conclusion. Myre is built on a hugely bloody and questionable past, in which the rightful queen was removed from the throne and her people subjugated and driven into reservations, echoing some of the worst of mankind’s treatment of each other and opening up the exploration of a vast number of ethical and moral issues.
Eva has ever been deemed to be the weakest and thus unlikely to overpower – and kill – her sister in combat and win the throne through the Rival Heir system. While Isa, her sister, has the ability to control the minds of others, Eva’s magic of blood and marrow is one that she has demonstrated next to no ability to access, leading her to seek out assistance in unlocking her potential as the day that will invoke the system that invites sister to kill sister draws ever closer. What I liked most about Eva is that she is not perfect by any means. She hates the situation that she is in and often struggles to see when those who care about her try to do right by her, mostly because she feels her mother and sister have decided that she is inferior and beneath noting. However, she tries to take what control she can of the situation, even if it does mean taking some people for granted, her sympathies nevertheless leaning most towards those who have always been in her life, even when she struggles to find any goodness in the world. That these sympathies are not with her own race complicate matters for her, particularly when she is set to fight for the throne that has caused so much harm.
Though there are moments of romance that develop over the course of the narrative, I was pleased to see that the romance is not something upon which the whole story hinges or focuses on. I was also glad to see that, though Baccha is described as handsome, powerful and mysterious – employing the descriptors usually used for the romantic interest in YA literature – he is not the one that she chooses for that sort of entanglement. I admit I was a little worried about this to begin with, especially when it’s revealed that she and Baccha have been bound together to the extent that can feel each other’s emotions (another reasonably common feature of fantasy romances), as I’m really not on-board with anything that turns instructor/student relationships into something romantic. I’m glad that those lines weren’t crossed and that, though she and Baccha seem to develop a constructive friendshp and working relationship, it is not more than that.
Without discussing major spoilers, though there is a reason (I won’t say ‘good’ reason, because her choice to behave in the manner in which she does is coloured by her experiences and what she’s learned, but not necessarily a valid reason for it) that Isa is the way she is, she was the character that I was most conflicted about and felt that I couldn’t quite work out. Her motivation doesn’t seem entirely solid and I hope that this is something that is made a little clearer in future books. Though she seems to want the crown and power, her ambition for them seems to fluctuate, in that sometimes it seems a genuine lust for power, at others simply because she ‘can’ and has lived with the assumption that she will be queen for most of her life, and then there are the moments when she appears only to want it because she perceives that Eva doesn’t and, therefore, as her mother’s daughter, she will. She’s an interesting antagonist, especially because Eva understands that she is the enemy and still, despite having plenty of evidence not to, wishes she weren’t, her feelings for her never quite settling as beloved sister or enemy. I’d really love to see more of Isa in future instalments and hope that she and Eva spend more time together in the present, seeing as a lot of what we see of them together in this book is from a past before either of them knew that one would have to kill the other.
A River of Royal Blood is out on October 29th!